During a summer league baseball game last year, center fielder Todd Snell raced into the alley, cut the ball off, whirled and threw to second base. Then he felt a twinge in his left arm.
"I knew I had pulled something," said Snell, who was a standout pitcher and outfielder at Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine. "I thought the injury was minor."
It was not. Examinations revealed a severe case of tendinitis and Snell was told he wouldn't be able to pitch again in the near future, possibly for as long as two years."My senior year was coming up and I wanted to play badly. So I did the only thing I could think of," he said.
Snell learned to pitch right-handed. His hitting remained unaffected and this season he played center field and batted above .600 (left-handed). He led all high school hitters in the area. He had 16 extra-base hits during the Prince George's County regular season. And today, he made first-team all-Metropolitan as designated hitter.
It took hard work. After his injury, Snell spent hours, summer and winter, tossing a ball against a brick wall in his basement, lifting weights, swinging a sledgehammer, hitting balls into a makeshift batting cage in his backyard, playing catch with his father.
"I didn't know if he would be able to make the switch," said Doug Snell, who played amateur baseball until he was in his 30s. "I would sit on the basement steps and watch him. He looked bad at first, but he was determined to do it and kept working. After throwing with one hand 16 1/2 years, it isn't easy to switch hands."
"I looked so bad at first and my arm hurt," Snell recalled. "But after a while, I could see improvement. I couldn't throw very hard or for a long distance but the ball went straight. When practice began (March 1), I was throwing pretty good right-handed."
Gwynn Park Coach Ken Gentry was amazed.
"I couldn't believe my eyes," Gentry said. "All winter, he kept telling me he would be ready. I knew he was a gutsy kid but I just couldn't imagine anyone switching that quickly. I had never heard of that before. When he came out and was whipping the ball around, I was simply stunned."
While he was learning to throw right-handed, Snell began lifting weights and tossing the ball again with his left arm. The pain returned and the doctors told him to forget pitching.
"I think the doctors felt they were right, but I thought I would take the chance," Snell said, "(and gradually) the pain disappeared. A month later, my speed improved and my control started to come back. Now I'm comfortable (throwing) with both hands."
And he has in the playoffs, throwing right-handed in one victory, left-handed in another.
Snell and twin brother Rodd, a second-team all-Met, helped the defending Maryland state A champions win the Prince George's AB and Region III A titles a third straight year. In the state semifinals Saturday, Gwynn Park (16-3) will play Northwood (9-9) at Essex Community College at noon.
Just in case he's needed on the mound, Snell has been working hard this week on his control. Gentry, impressed, said he is considering using him as a left-handed pitcher Saturday.
Rodd Snell, somewhat overshadowed because of Todd's achievements, said brotherly rivalry has been a prime motivating factor for him this season. Still, Rodd has been a big supporter of Todd.
"Todd's having such a good year and I'm trying to catch up with him," said Rodd, batting better than .450 with five home runs and 27 RBI. "It gives me incentive to try harder when he plays well and he tries harder when I play well."
Todd Snell says he doesn't think his switch in dexterity is such an accomplishment -- "just something I did every day until I got used to it. I love the game and I wanted to play."
Special correspondent Gary Graves contributed to this report.